This is Nick Youngstein, filling in for Barry (a.k.a. bluetooner) in analyzing the Game Changers from last night. The Union got a full week's rest after playing three matches in eight days the week prior. San Jose took their turn of being in the position of playing on short rest. Both teams are on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in, and could be in dire straits with a loss. Let's look at how it all played out.
1) The Starting XI
And more specifically, Andrew Wenger's inclusion in it instead of Danny Cruz. The 2012 #1 overall SuperDraft pick was a force of nature on the left wing from the early stages of the match. His opening goal nine-and-a-half minutes in was the product of an excellently executed counter attack following a poorly-taken Shea Salinas corner kick. The ball was worked down the left wing with a give-and-go between Sebastien Le Toux and Casey. Wenger filled the other side of the play, and darted on a diagonal run towards Seba's pass, and shot on his second touch. Moving away from the goal in continuing his run, he then turned and unleashed a clinically accurate strike with his left foot, into the far side's side netting.
All match long, until his being subbed out for Cruz, he was making runs at the right back, pushing the pace of the Union attack. The epitome of the effort he put in is encapsulated by the bookend of his brace. His goal in the 79th minute was started by his winning a header, continued by receiving an immediate return pass, and finished by a ~40-yard sprint ending with a skillful outside-of-the-right-boot strike. It was a dominant combination of speed, strength, and skill, which made manager Jim Curtin look like a genius.
2)The Guy on the Other Wing
Le Toux being an impact player during his Union career is hardly news. However, when one player scores one of the four goals and assists on each of the other three, it's quite noteworthy. His statistics all come from his high work rate. His contribution to Union's first goal started in his own 18, defending a corner kick. The corner was low and cleared to the left wing, and Seba was off to the races. A pass was played to Conor Casey, and Seba continued his sprint down the wing to get on the end of the return feed. Picking up his head, he spotted Wenger's run and weighted his pass perfectly.
His goal, the second for Philadelphia, found him trailing the play. Sheanon Williams served a cross into Casey, but the defender won the aerial challenge. However, the ball went right to Union's #11 and lashed a volley that was behind Jon Busch before he could react. The third goal was created by Seba's free kick to the near post that Sheanon deflected into the net with a diving header. Most importantly, that third goal was about two minutes after San Jose equalized. And his capper for the night was being involved with Andrew Wenger in a 1-2 play. Wenger won a header right to Seba, who first-touched it right back into Andrew's sprint path. Though the new #9 did most of the running on the play, the old #9 played an integral part in the play by not making Wenger break stride and take full advantage.
3) Jon Busch Submitting an Entry for Save of the Week
Casey nearly had Union ahead 3-0, when Sheanon served yet another dangerous cross in front of San Jose's goal, and Casey put his forehead to it. The short-range strike was hit downward, but not enough, as Busch was able to adjust to it and catch it a little more than 2 feet away from a three-goal deficit. The impact was felt about two minutes later, when Jordan Stewart served a free kick from just over the midway line in his defensive territory. Carlos Valdes won the header, but it didn't leave the general area, and Sam Cronin struck a volley off of one bounce. It was a cracking strike which left Rais M'Bolhi helpless to stop it, as it found the right side upper 90.
Eleven minutes after that, Earthquakes were feeling very confident, and a deftly-served cross from Salinas found Chris Wondolowski at the back post. His volley brought his team level, and shook what had been a confident and free-flowing Union side into a seeming world of doubt. Union defenders afforded Salinas far too much space on the left wing, and Ray Gaddis was ball-watching and not fully aware of Wondolowski's exact position. Scared defending like that usually results in lost points.
4) Enough Energy? No Way, (San) Jose
Earthquakes were playing their third match in nine days, with the middle game of that being in Seattle just four days earlier. Union fans know all too well about how their team plays when having to travel west. The fatigue was obvious on the San Jose side. That was likely a contributor in the final two Union tallies. The free kick was off of a foul committed by tired legs, and defenders could not make up ground on Andrew Wenger, who runs well, but isn't the fastest player normally. San Jose made just one change to their starters from their match at Sounders FC, and it proved to be an ill-advised approach.